Friday, 8 December 2017

Nakajima A6M2-N "Rufe" pt. 7 Kuril/Chishima Islands 452th Kokutai

We conclude this series on the "Rufe" seaplanes in the North with the last chapter in the history of 452Ku.  
The 452 Kokutai was reorganized on May 18, 1943 with Nakajima A6M2-N "Rufe", Aichi E13A "Jake" and Mitsubishi F1M "Pete". The "Pete" group with eight planes advanced to Paramushir Island in the Kuril/Chishima Islands around the end of May. The "Rufe" group was in Yokohama (or Yokosuka according to Izawa) training, the "Jake" were in Tateyama also training. On June 24, after a brief stop at Ominato, the "Rufe" group with ten seaplanes advanced to Shumshu Island on the northern tip of Paramushir using a base at Lake Bettobu (in all Japanese sources the location is referred as "Betobinuma" which is the marshes near lake Bettobu). Early July the rest of the planes followed with reconnaissance, patrol and air defence duties. The "Jake" and "Pete" were usually doing anti-submarine patrols.
On October 1, 1943 the "Rufe" group was disbanded. The reconnaissance floatplanes remained in the Kuril Islands from Spring until summer 1944 then returned to the mainland. The 452Ku was in Japan and Taiwan until January 1, 1945 when the unit was disbanded.
We will not tire you with the many Kodochosho entries of patrols without enemy encounters but instead focus on the dates when there were.

July 19, 1943
At 06:25 all the force of eleven "Rufe" took off on patrol and found five B-24 but the enemy escaped in high speed. "Rufe" pilots: Lt Araki, WO Nagase, PO1c Hoshi, PO1c Osa and PO2cs Katsuki, Naoi, Endo, Nagasako, Hamaya, Suzuki and Iijima.
The publication “Combat Chronology 1941 - 1945”, Compiled by Kit C. Carter, Robert Mueller (Center for Air Force History Washington, DC 1991), (hereafter CC) has the following on the day:
7/18/43 Eleventh AF - 2 B-24’s and 6 B-25’s bomb Gertrude Cove and Main Camp at Kiska. 6 B-24’s bomb shipping tgts between Paramushiru and Shimushu and completed runway at Murakami Bay on Paramushiru, which is also photographed. They observe fires among buildings S and E of this runway. Some of observed aircraft take to the air and vainly pursue the attackers.”
The Thousand-Mile War - World War II in Alaska and the Aleutians” by Brian Gardfield has the following on that day's events:
“It was a warm 68° even at 18,000 feet, where the mission leveled off. Over Shimushu (a small island just north of Paramushiro) the weather was broken; a low-lying haze was moving in from the southwest. The Liberators followed the Shimushu coast around to the south side of the island and crossed the narrow strait to Paramushiro.
  Three Liberators peeled off to bomb the air base; three others—Major Frederick R. Ramputi, twenty-seven; Major Lucian K. Wernick, twenty-six; Major Richard Lavin, twenty-seven—made a straight run over the harbor strait, sighting on a big concentration of several dozen warships, transports and fishing vessels. Paramushiro was the headquarters of all Japan's northern commands; it was a big base.
  Startled Japanese stared up, not sure what was happening. At first they thought the planes were off-course Russian patrol ships. But then the bomb-bay doors yawned open and sticks of 500-pounders tumbled toward the air field. The Japanese ran for cover. In his headquarters office, Vice Admiral Shiro Kawase heard the first string of bombs explode on a nearby taxiway and wheeled to the window, incredulous.
  Paramushiro's defenses were not on the alert (even though the American submarine Narwhal had shelled the nearby air field at Matsuwa only three days before). A few antiaircraft guns went into frantic operation, but only managed to fire four or five bursts. Pilots ran to their planes and fired up cold engines, but they would be too late to get up to the high bombers.
  Bomb explosions rocked several buildings. Craters pocked the main runway. Over the harbor, Ramputi, Wernick, and Lavin circled to make a second bomb run on the anchored ships—their bomb racks had frozen the first time, and Lavin was having engine trouble.
  Wernick and Ramputi triggered their bombs by hand while their cameras clicked at high speed. The bombs blew up one ship and damaged two or three others. Lavin could not release his bombs. With one engine feathered, he followed the flight away and shoved his throttles forward, trying to keep up.
  The other flight—Major Robert E. Speer, twenty-eight; Major Edward C. Lass, twenty-seven; Captain Jacques Francine, thirty-four—was just completing its bomb run over the air base. Thick smoke unrolled across the field. Five Zeroes dodged craters, taxied down a secondary (unhit) runway and reached take-off speed. On a nearby lake, twenty seaplane-fighters rested at their moorings, but only two were manned; these chugged into life and swung out onto flat water to take off.
  Speer gathered his planes, circled east and headed home. Lavin, on three engines, fell behind. The Zeroes appeared to be catching up to him, but none of them was fully fueled or armed; they gave up the chase after a few minutes. Speer cut speed to accommodate Lavin, and at dusk the six planes reached Adak in neat formation and landed at regular two-minute intervals. They had not suffered a single bullet hole or flak scratch.”
The July 20, 1943 report entitled "Japanese Naval Activities" (hereafter JNA) issued by the Navy Department, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington has the following:
The Paramushiru-Shimushu area was bombed about 1120 W on 18 July, by 6 B-24's from Adak. 3 of the planes dropped 12 500-lb. bombs on Jap[anese] ships in the strait. 6(8? smudgy) of the bombs were near misses. The other 3 planes dropped 18 500-lb. bombs on the runway at the airfield. No direct hits were observed but buildings E. and S. of the field were set afire. The runway was estimated to be 5,000-feet long. Another strip, about half finished was seen across the strait at Kataoka, Shimushu, where the base itself was estimated to cover about 1 square mile. Some installations were seen at Cape Miyagawa and Cape Arakata, S. of the harbor. The planes over the strait met 4 to 6 bursts of A/A fire which were all short. 4 Jap[anese] planes in the air made no attempt to intercept. The weather was good with ceiling and visibility unlimited although there was haze over the harbor.   

The July 22, 1943 JNA report has the following:
Preliminary study of photographs taken over Paramushiru and Shimushu on 18 July, shows 2 Jap[anese] seaplane bases at Lake Bettobu, at the SW end of Shimushu. 8 twin-float and 19 single floatplanes were beached or anchored there.
August 12
At 07:15 ten "Rufe" took off to intercept four B-24s. Inflicted serious damage but no enemy aircraft were shot down. At 07:45 all "Rufe" returned to base. Three aircraft, those flown by Hoshi, Osa and Naoi received bullet holes. The "Rufe" group was split into two shotai of five aircraft each. First shotai Araki, Hoshi, Suzuki, Iijima, CPO Nose. Second shotai Osa, Naoi, Hachigo, Nagasako, Hamaya. A group of eight "Pete" and Nakajima Ki-43 "Hayabusa" (Oscar) IJAAF fighters of the 54 Sentai based on Paramushir also participated.
CC: 8/11/43 Eleventh AF - B-24’s, B-25’s, A-24’s, and P-38’s pound Kiska tgts in 11 attack missions. Later, 10 rcn, strafing and photo missions to Kiska are flown by 3 P-38’s, 26 P-40’s, 4 F-5A’s and 1 B-24. 9 B-24’s from Attu drop bombs and incendiaries on Paramushiru I tgts, including Kashiwabara A/F and Shimushu I where Kataoka naval base and staging area are hit. 40 enemy aircraft challenge the attackers, which score 4 confirmed kills, 1 probable, and 4 possibles.”
Gardfield describes:
  General Butler asked Lucian Wernick to lead a second Paramushiro raid, identical with the first. Wernick refused to volunteer for the job; he pointed out that the first raid had only succeeded because it had taken the enemy by surprise. Next time the enemy would be waiting.
  When the second Paramushiro mission took off on August 11, 1943, Wernick was not part of it. The only veteran of the first raid was Major Louis C. Blau, who had been a co-pilot in Speer's flight. Blau led the mission; there were nine planes.
  Paramushiro, and the alternate target at the Kataoka naval base on Shimushu, were overcast at 2000 feet. The nine bombers circled down to make low-level bomb runs—and found that Wernick had been right. The enemy was waiting.
  Puffs of barrage flak smoke covered the sky above the targets, flung up by dozens of ground batteries and every ship in the harbor. Zeroes and Rufes were already in the air and climbing.
  Once again, flame and smoke spread rapidly across Paramushiro. Bombs—incendiaries and high explosives—struck a dozen buildings, a waterfront pier, a cargo ship, warehouses and supply depots. But just outside the savage flak barrage, thirty-seven Japanese fighters waited to pounce on the emerging B-24s.
  Captain Harrel F. Hoffman's Liberator, cornered by Zeroes, torched into a death spin. For the next forty-five minutes the eight remaining bombers fought a running battle with swarms of Japanese fighters—Zeroes, Rufes, Oscars, Haps. They attacked the B-24s from five- and seven-o'clock angles where the bombers' vertical stabilizers shielded their own turret and tail guns.
  Japanese cannon and tracers slammed through every bomber; the fighters made thirty and forty passes at some of the fleeing B-24s. The sky was a chugging battlefield. Lieutenant Robert Lockwood's plane, limping on three engines, was punctured from every angle. His gunners hurled back fusillades, but the B-24 lost altitude. The crew threw everything overboard but couldn't lighten the ship enough—and then, at 200 feet, fuel starvation muzzled Lockwood's carburetors and all three engines stopped dead.
  With instant presence of mind, Lockwood jabbed his con-trols—tank selectors, turbos and booster pumps. The belly turret took a frosting of ocean spray; and the three engines roared into life. Lockwood nursed it forward at zero altitude.
  Lieutenant Leon A. Smith, last plane in "C" flight, was an easy target for the enemy; for more than ten minutes he had three fighters on each wing and four on his tail. His gunners raked the air and Zeroes went down flaming on all sides—by the end of the incredible fight, the American bombers had shot thirteen Japanese fighters into the sea.
  Somehow, all eight B-24s, including Lockwood's, made it back to Attu. Through great good luck and uncanny flying, the mission had lost only one plane.”

September 12
At 08:55 one shotai with two "Rufe", flown by Koda and Nagasako located one B-24 and attacked but the enemy aircraft dropped her bombs and escaped. The bomber received heavy damage but as she was not confirmed as shot down, it is recorded as a probable. According to Izawa Ltjg Koda Katsumi and PO2c Nagasako shared this kill.
At 09:40 a formation of escaping B-24 is located. Following an attack by the "Rufe" seaplanes one of the bombers emitted white smoke the rest also received damage.
At 09:24 a shotai of five "Rufe" flown by Kato, Katsuki, Hachigo, Endo and Osugi located a formation of nine B-24s and B-25s. Two B-24s were shot down. The crew of one B-24 tried to escape with a rubber boat and was attacked.
A third shotai with three "Rufe" flown by Osa, Hamaya and Machise took off later the same day but didn’t locate the enemy.
As before "Hayabusa" from the 54th Sentai took part in the battle.
CC: 9/11/43 Eleventh AF - 12 B-25’s and 8 B-24’s attack Paramushiru for the third and last time this year. 6 HBs bomb Kashiwabara staging area. Shipping is bombed and strafed in Kashiwabara harbor and Paramushiru Straits. 1 freighter and 1 large transport is sunk while 1 transport and 2 cargo ships are damaged. 2 other cargo vessels sustain possible hits. Tgts hit on land include 2 bldgs and a AA battery on Shimushu. Of 40 ftrs giving battle, 13 are shot down and 3 more are probables. 2 HBs force-land in USSR, one with mechanical defect, the other after being hit. 1 B-24 is downed by AA fire. Losses are 7 B-25’s and 2 B-24’s in this most disastrous day for the Eleventh. It will be another 5 months before it is able to strike at the Kurils again.”
Again Gardfield has a few more details:
  “Exploratory missions had probed Paramushiro before the end of the Campaign. Now, as one of his last acts as Alaskan Air Commander, General Butler ordered a full-scale bombardment mission, to hit Paramushiro on September 11, 1943. As a parting shot, it was to prove the Eleventh Air Force's greatest disaster of all.
  The withdrawal of squadrons had left Butler severely understrength. He could assemble only seven B-24s and twelve B-25s for the strike.
  The Japanese were waiting for them. During a 50-minute dogfight against sixty enemy fighters, the Americans dropped about twelve tons of bombs on Paramushiro and Shimushu-To and shot down thirteen enemy planes, but lost three of their own planes on the spot—and seven shot-up American bombers had to crash-land at nearby Petropavlovsk in Soviet Kamchatka. The United States obtained the return of the seven air crews; the Russians impounded the bombers.
  Of the nineteen planes that flew the mission, only nine came home. In one stroke the Eleventh Air Force had lost more than half its striking power.”
The 13/9/1943 G-2 report mentions: On 12 September, Paramushiru was attacked by U.S. medium and heavy bombers. Thirty-five tons were dropped on targets in the Kashi-Wabara staging area and in Paramushiru Strait. Excellent results were reported. Approximately 24 enemy fighters intercepted; 10 were shot down.
Notice how three different U.S. sources give completely different information regarding the Japanese aircraft invloved (40, 60, 24) and the Japanese aircraft shot down (13+3probables, 13, 10). 

Below is a map included in the "Air Objective Folder on the Kurile Islands" of the US Army Air Force dated May 25, 1943, featuring the island of Shumshu. Note the Bettobu lake where the "Rufe" of the 452Nu were based. The island next to Shumshu is Paramushir.

Flight leader Takahashi Masaru who was on Shumshu from July 10, 1943 has the following to say in the publication “Kaigun Suijoki-tai” (Navy Seaplane Units) by various authors, Kojinsha 2013.
It was a very relaxed place and we didn't see much action. Everybody thought that since it was the very northern front we expected to see plenty of combat, but that was not the case. The daily life was peaceful and not that hard with good food, spending time fishing at Lake Bettobu in the morning and having the fish for dinner the same night. The crew were in tents giving the feeling of a camping park. The tents were quite apart from each other to avoid getting hit during enemy raids. Walking around them at night took about an hour and a half. There were 200 IJN members with twelve "Rufe" and six "Pete". The 452 Ku was under the command of the 12 Koku Kantai (Air Fleet). Even though it was a front base nobody really cared to dig air shelters and the air defence facilities were shabby. There were lookouts but no towers. The sentries were just posted on top of hills. The air raid sirens were simple, hand operated. So in general we were not capable to locate the enemy on our own and had to rely on radio warnings from Paramushir. So the officer in charge listened to Paramushir for enemy sighting warnings and then started the siren. The seaplanes were parked around the lake and when they all took off at the same time, they converged towards the center of the lake. Quite scary to look at but the pilots were highly skilled and there were no accidents. The bombers flew at low altitude and at high speed, and the warnings gave us very little time to react. So everybody taking off at the same time was the best way to catch them in time.”

Another interesting source is the book "Kaigun Kosaku-hei Senki" (Battle Diary of Navy Combat Engineers) by Kimura Seishu, Kojinsha 2006. The author joined the 521 Haken-tai (Detachment) in the middle of June 1943 and was assigned to Shumshu Island as a replacement to the troops who were already building the seaplane base on lake Bettobu. There were three main buildings, the headquarters was the one which housed the commanding officers, medical staff, pilots and crew. A different building was allocated to the maintenance crew and a third building to the construction workers and support crew. One of their night pastimes was to listen to Tojo Hideki curse in his messages on the short wave radio but there were also visits by soldier entertainment groups of dancers and singers. White nights on Shumshu start from around July or August which was very confusing to the soldiers who were not accustomed to that.
In the middle of July enemy aircraft attacked at low altitude strafing the place without causing any damage before they disappear. A few days later a number of B-24 attacked and the “Rufe” unit, all veteran pilots, took off almost without any taxing on the water, and got engaged in air battles.
The busiest in the base were the maintenance crew. When the others were sleeping they would get up and prepare the aircraft. After returning from patrol they would maintain the aircraft and except for a few hours rest during midday there was no other rest. The pilots and crew once in the morning and one more time in the afternoon they would take off for anti-submarine patrols or more rarely to escort ships reaching Kataoka Bay. there was no action the pilots would just hang around in the base. They spent their time building wooden airplane models and contests were held.
The lake water was not potable and was used only for washing clothes and bath. Drinking water had to be brought to the camp from a fountain at another location they had to visit with a landing boat.
From early September the weather became very harsh. As Kimura-san very graphically describes, soy bean size hail would not just fall but whip them as if thrown by demons.
From early July the water of Bettobu lake would gradually rise and the buildings had to be relocated twice to get further away. But the rising water reached just in front of the buildings in early September and by the middle of September the base was abandoned. 
According to Watanabe Yoji the "Rufe" group used the  tail marking "V2-" at that time in Shumshu while the reconnaissance seaplane group used the tail marking "52-". In his book “Ginyoku Minami E Kita E” (Silver wings in the South and the North), Kojinsha 2013 there is a not very clear photo which shows a "Rufe", that Watanabe says has the tail marking "V2-111". Recognizing that he probably has access to higher quality material, Devlin Chouinard created artwork.
And Hasegawa has released a kit in 1/48.
There is a small number of photos of 452Ku pilots and "Rufe" seaplanes during their time in the Kurils. Three particularly interesting photos are featured in Watanabe Yoji's "Tatakau Zero Sen - Taiintachi no Shashin-shu" (Fighting Zero Fighter - Members' Photo Album), published by Bungei Shunju.
The first is on page 187 and according to the caption the pilot is "Rufe" unit commander LTJG Araki ready to raise his arm signalling that he is ready for take-off. In the background there are proper wooden buildings so it is safe to assume that this photo was taken in Yokosuka when the "Rufe" unit was undergoing training. Of particular interest is the state of the main float of the seaplane compared to the pristine paint of the rest of the aircraft. Note also how clean the port supporting float is.
Another very clear photo on page 186 reveals many small details. Although only partially visible it shows that the tail markings were yellow, not white.
Another detail is the lack of head rest in the cockpit. According to Watanabe these were removed in order to protect the pilot if the plane flipped over.
Of interest also is the well defined with broad white surround fuselage hinomaru; but those on the wings seem to have the white surround overpainted by hand.

 The not-painted or silver prop spinner is also worth mentioning.
And finally notice a small detail lost to most modellers. The supporting float is quite weathered where the mooring line is attached.

A second photo on the same page shows two "Rufe" seaplanes taking off. Of particular interest is the seaplane on the left.
Note the bands on the fuselage and the wings signifying that this was probably the aircraft of commander Araki. According to Watanabe these were red with white surround; let's remember that Watanabe-san has access to the original higher quality photos. Unfortunately the tail marking is not clear and Watanabe-san doesn't mention what it could be. Devlin Chouinard created artwork with the speculative "V2-101" tail marking, we are sure you will find inspirational.

According to Izawa the "Rufe" unit starting from Toko Kokutai until the end shot down 17 enemy aircraft, with six unconfirmed. During air battles 12 "Rufe" seaplanes were destroyed and ten pilots were lost.


David Brizzard said...

What a great, and most informative, batch of information.
Thank you for the run, I do look forward to the next batch.
The color profiles made it even more interesting.

Arawasi said...

Thanks David. Glad you liked it.

Jacob Terlouw said...

This series is by far the best ever published about the A6M2-N and the those men that flew
and fought with it.
Hats off to Arawasi!

Arawasi said...

Thanks a lot Jacob. Appreciated. More to come!

Michael Thurow said...

Thanks for this inspiring series, George.
Just one comment: The spinner colour on the detail picture is most likely silver, not white. Replacement props were sometimes delivered unpainted, and the proper camouflage was applied locally or not at all. Such spinners are often interpreted as being white. Coloured spinners are very rare on IJN aircraft.

Brendan McGovern said...

This has been a fascinating and enjoyable series of articles. Thanks!

Arawasi said...

Thanks Michael. I just corrected it.
More to come Brendan!